This is a book full of science fiction—every story in the book is clearly that and not something else. It is our opinion that it is a good thing to have genre boundaries. We have a high regard for horror, fantasy, speculative fiction, and slipstream, and postmodern literature. We (Kathryn Cramer and David G. Hartwell) edit the Year’s Best Fantasy as well, a companion volume to this one—look for it if you enjoy short fantasy fiction too. But here, we choose science fiction. This volume is intended to represent the variety of fine stories published in the year. But bear with us for a few paragraphs as we first give some characterization of the year in SF.
In 2011 the earth quaked for the publishing industry, especially in the U.S. The third largest bookseller, Borders, the bookstore chain that accounted for about 20 percent of everyone’s business, went bankrupt. There were five other important bankruptcies in the U.S. bookselling business, and in Canada, one big one, The H.B. Fenn Company. Fenn was the largest distributor in Canada of U.S. books. Together, these events hurt the profitability of book publishing a lot. Specifically, the lack of so many formerly supportive distribution channels for books lowered the initial printings, and therefore the sales, of nearly all new books.
But what rankles most publishers is that first, when a store or customer goes bankrupt, they don’t pay for the books shipped to them, but do get to sell them at a going-out-of-business sale—the money goes to the secured creditors, the banks that loaned the stores money, not the suppliers. And second, because the books were sold, even though they were not paid for, the authors must be paid royalties by the publishers as if they had been paid, increasing the publisher’s losses. Wow!
The substantial increase in e-book sales in the first half of 2011 made up for some but certainly not all of this, and then e-book sales generally declined in the second half of the year. It became really apparent as well that e-book sales were adversely affecting mass market paperback sales, even more than in 2010. The disparity in money was profound. One publishing newsletter pointed out that the bestselling e-book original of 2011 made about $500,000.00, while the bestselling hardcover book made between 40 and 50 million dollars. Physical books are still where the money is, and in the e-book industry the real profit is still in the sale of devices, which are replaced by newer devices, not in the sale of books. And it appears that e-book rental is being encouraged. As this is written it is not possible to predict what will happen in 2012. All we know is that nearly everyone is making less profit. The squeeze is on.
Science fiction, of the genre variety, was a bit harder to find in 2011 than in 2010. Certainly it continued to appear in Analog and Asimov’s, in F&SF and in Interzone, and in a lot of original anthologies. But it seemed to us to be a bit scarcer, and a lot more often grading off into fantasy and mixed genres, while fantasy fiction (not in any way SF) quite obviously increased.
Short fiction venues remained about the same in 2011, and a pale shadow of what they were a decade ago. Science fiction magazines once again lost some circulation. Online venues, which might pay contributors but make little money, grew or failed again last year. Non-profit Strange Horizons and Tor.com appeared most stable of the online bunch. Clarkesworld and Lightspeed did distinguished work too. Lots of small presses—or perhaps small publishers is now the proper apellation for these few—carried the ball for innovation in 2011, again especially the Bay Area cluster of Night Shade, Tachyon, and Subterranean. And as usual, a large amount of the best short fiction originated in the year’s new crop of anthologies. Among the best of these were Welcome to the Greenhouse, edited by Gordon Van Gelder, Solaris Rising, edited by Ian Whates, Living on Mars, edited by Jonathan Strahan, and Engineering Infinity, edited by Jonathan Strahan.
And that is the context in which all of the following stories first appeared. This then is a book about what’s going on now in SF. We try in each volume of this series to represent the varieties of tone and voice and attitude that keep the genre vigorous and responsive to the changing realities out of which it emerges, in science and daily life. It is supposed to be fun to read, a special kind of fun you cannot find elsewhere. The stories show, and the story notes point out, the strengths of the evolving genre in the year 2011.
We make a lot of additional comments about the writers and the stories, and what’s happening in SF, in the individual introductions accompanying the stories in this book. Welcome to the Year’s Best SF 17.David G. Hartwell & Kathryn Cramer
Ken MacLeod (Kenmacleod.blogspot.com) was born in Stornoway, Isle of Lewis, Scotland, on August 2, 1954. He is married with two grown-up children and lives in West Lothian. He has an Honours and Masters degree in biological subjects and worked for some years in the IT industry. Since 1997 he has been a full-time writer, and in 2009 was Writer in Residence at the ESRC Genomics Policy and Research Forum at Edinburgh University. He is the author of thirteen novels, from The Star Fraction (1995) to Intrusion (2012), and many articles and short stories. His collection, Giant Lizards from Another Star, was published in 2006. His novels and stories have received three BSFA awards and three Prometheus Awards, and several have been short-listed for the Clarke and Hugo Awards.
“The Best Science Fiction of the Year Three” was first published in Solaris Rising: The New Solaris Book of Science Fiction, edited by Ian Whates, who had a particularly good year as an editor of anthologies in 2011. It is a model of SF plotting, and we feel that in it MacLeod engages both with the current state of the world and with the current state of science fiction in a gripping and entertaining fashion. So we chose to put it first in this book.
In the Year Three, l’année trois as it’s called here, there are three kinds of Americans living in Paris: the old expats, the new émigrés, and the spooks. And then there are the tourists, who’ve travelled via Dublin, their passports unstamped at Shannon. You can find them all at Shakespeare and Co.; or they can find you.
I was browsing the bargain boxes for SF paperbacks when I noticed that the guy at my elbow wasn’t going away. At a sideways glance I identified him as a tourist—something in the skin texture, the clothes, the expression. He looked back at me, and we both did a double take.
“Bob!” I said, sticking out my hand. “Haven’t seen you since—when?”
“The London Worldcon,” said Bob, shaking my hand. “God, that’s … a long time.”
“How are you doing?”
“Fine, fine. You know how it is.”
I nodded. Yes, I knew how it was.
“What brings you here?” I asked.
“Business,” said Bob. He smiled wryly. “Yet another SF anthology. The angle this time is that it features stories from American writers in exile. So I’m systematically approaching the ones I know, trying to track down those I don’t have a contact for, and commissioning. The deal’s already set up with Editions Jules Verne—the anthology will be published here, in English. In the US it’ll be available on Amazon. That way, I can get around all the censorship problems. It’s not so bad you can’t read what you like, but publishing what you like is more of a problem.”
“So bad you had to come here just to contact the writers?”
“That’s right. Trying to set this up online from inside the US might be … well. Let’s just say I didn’t want to take the chance.”
“Jeez,” I said. “That bad.”
I looked back down at the books and saw that my forefinger had landed, as if guided by an invisible hand, on the spine of a J. Neil Schulman paperback. I tugged out Alongside Night.
“Well,” I said, “I’ve found what I’m looking for. You?”
Bob shrugged. “Just browsing,” he said. “Fancy a coffee?”
I nipped inside, paid a euro for the book, and rejoined Bob outside in the chilly February afternoon. He stood gazing across the Seine at Notre-Dame.
“Hard to believe I’m actually looking at it,” he said. He blinked and shook his head. “Where to?”
I indicated left. “Couple of hundred metres, nice traditional place.”
The cafe was on the Quai des Grands Augustins. The bitter wind blew grit in our faces. Along the way, I noticed Bob looking askance at the flaring reds, yellows and blacks of the leftist, anarchist and altermondialiste posters plastered on walls and parapets.
“Must be kind of weird, seeing all that commie kipple everywhere,” he said.
“You stop noticing,” I said.
The doorway was easy to miss. Inside, the cafe seemed higher than it was wide, a little canyon of advertisement mirrors and verdegrised brass and smoke-stained woodwork. Two old guys eyed us and returned to their low-voiced conversation around a tiny handheld screen across which horses galloped. I ordered a couple of espressos and we took a table near the back under a Ricard poster that looked like it predated the Moon landings, if not the Wright brothers. We fiddled with envelopes of sugar and slivers of wood, and sipped for a few moments in silence.
“Well,” Bob said at last, “I suppose I have to ask. What do you think of the Revolution?”
“It always reminds me,” I said, “of something Marx said about the French state: how all the revolutions have ‘perfected this machine, instead of smashing it’.”
Bob yelped with laughter. “Fuck, yeah! But trust you to come up with a Marx quote. You were always a bit of a wanker in that respect.”
I laughed too, and we took some time to reminisce and catch up.
Bob was a science-fiction fan, an occasional SF editor, and an anarchist, but none of these paid his bills. He was an anthropology professor at a Catholic university deep in the Bible Belt. He spent very little time propagating the ideas of anarchism, even in the days when that had been safe—‘wanker’ and ‘hobbyist’ were among his kinder terms for ideologues. Instead, he worked with trade union locals, small business forums, free software start-ups, and tribal guerrillas in Papua New Guinea. This was all anthropological research, or so he claimed. Such groups tended to be more effective after he’d worked with them.
I hadn’t thought much about him over the years, to be honest—we were never exactly close—but when I had, I’d wondered how he was doing under the new order in the United States. Not too well, by the sound of things. Still, it would probably have been worse for him if I’d emailed to ask. This thought helped to quash my pang of guilt about not having kept in touch.
“Hey,” Bob was saying, “wait a minute—you must know some of these writers!”
“Maybe you could give me some contact details?”
At that moment I began to suspect that we hadn’t met by accident.
“I don’t know if I can,” I said.
I had the numbers of most of the writers Bob was looking for on my mobile. “But,” I went on, “I do know where you can find them tomorrow morning. Every SF writer in Paris, I shouldn’t wonder.”
Bob looked puzzled for a moment.
“The ascent,” I said.
He smacked his forehead with the heel of his hand. “Of course!”
Like he’d forgotten; like he hadn’t timed his visit just for this. The date had been announced on New Year’s Eve, in a special Presidential broadcast from the Elysée Palace.
We exchanged phone numbers and finished our coffees.
“Fancy a glass of wine?” Bob said.
I looked at my watch. “Sorry, I’ve got to go,” I said. “But I’ll see you tomorrow. Jardin de Luxembourg, main gate, 11 a.m.”
“See you there,” Bob said.
I strolled across the Île de la Cité, pausing for a moment to soak in the glow of the low sun off the front of Notre-Dame. As always, it sent me down long passages of reminiscence and meditation. Something about that complexity that fills your eyes, that you can take in at a single glance, lifts the spirit. It reminds me of the remaining frontage of the Library of Celsus in Ephesus, which many years ago I gazed at bedazzled, dusty, heat-struck, light-struck, dumb-struck. The pagan and the Christian architectural exuberance are in that respect alike.
And as always, as a sort of footnote as I turned and stepped away, came the thought of another building on that island, one as representative of our age, in its chill cement modernism, as the cathedral’s gothic was of its. Embarrassing to admit: my response to the Memorial to the Deportation has always been shaped by a prior description, the one in Iain M. Banks’s novella The State of the Art. My eyes, as always, pricked at the thought; the hairs of my chin and neck, as always, prickled. Seeing the memorial, for a moment, through the eyes of an imaginary alien communist: why should that move me so much? That is on top, you understand, of the import of the thing itself, of its monstrous synecdoche. Perhaps I’m just nostalgic for that alien communist view. These days, in the Year Three, the view’s hard to conjure—but when was it not?
I took the Metro from Châtelet to Bastille and walked briskly up Richard Lenoir, turned left to buy a few expensive necessities—a baguette, a half-litre of table wine, a handful of vegetables, a jar of sauce—in the local Bonne Marche, and hurried through the warren of small streets between the two boulevards to the tiny flat we rented off Beaumarchais. I had a pasta and salad ready by the time my wife came home. She was tired, as always. At our age it’s hard to find decent work. She’s stuck in admin, for one of the health associations. In the English-speaking world, mutualism is one of those wanker anarchist ideologies. In France, ‘mutualiste’ is a quotidian reality, a name on thousands of signboards for opticians, dentists, doctors. I hoped I had the opportunity to rub Bob’s nose in this at some point.
As for my own work … it too is exhausting, but in a different way.
I brought my wife coffee in bed at nine the following morning. She gave me a glare from under the cover.
“I thought you might want to come along.”
“You must be joking. I’m knackered. If I’m awake I’ll watch it on the telly.”
“Okay,” I said.
I kissed her forehead and left the coffee on the bedside table. I caught up with the news and online chatter over my own breakfast, and left the flat about ten-thirty. The sky was cloudless, the air cold and still. The low sun gilded the gold of the Bastille monument a few hundred metres down the road. Children whooped and yelled on the slides and swings in the little park along the centre of the boulevard. On a bench a homeless man slept, or lay very still, under rimed newspaper sheets. On the next bench, a young couple shared a joint and glanced furtively at the tramp. The market stalls had been up for hours, at this season selling preserves, knick-knacks, knock-offs, football shirts.